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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 14 : Some Ten Steps
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Some Ten Steps


‘So there’s nowhere you’d guess he might have gone?’

Scorpius shrugged across the desk at Ron Weasley. The two of them had been sat in the processing office down in Canary Wharf, arranging his release, for a half-hour now. Neither was thrilled with the situation. ‘Auror-Captain, there are about a gazillion places my father might have gone to ground. He has more business premises across the world than I can count. And I can count pretty high.’ He leaned back, which rattled the obligatory cuffs. ‘He owns a boat, I’m sure. And I think he was investing in developing magical airplanes, to be better than the Muggle ones. But his infrastructure might have grown. My information isn’t that up to date. I’ve been out of the world a while.’

He was rewarded with the faintest grimace from Ron, who dutifully noted this down anyway. ‘We have to ask, Mister Malfoy.’

‘I know. And I wish I could help more. But I didn’t involve myself in my father’s affairs at the best of times. These really haven’t been the best of times.’

‘Of course. If you think of anything -’

‘I’ll let you know.’

Ron scribbled something down. ‘You’ll be at the Manor?’

‘No. I’ll get a hotel room somewhere. I imagine your men need to go over the place anyway.’

‘We do, but that won’t take long.’ Ron shrugged. ‘Leaky Cauldron?’

‘I have some standards.’

‘Way I heard it, you don’t have money.’

‘Albus is going to pay.’ Scorpius sighed. ‘Because he’s a good egg. I mean, he’s calling it my money, but it’s still his. Even once I sort out being legally not-dead - again - it doesn’t roll back a will. It’s complicated.’

‘I’ll have some Enforcers escort you to wherever you go,’ said Ron. ‘I’m sorry, but it’s -’

‘It’s fine.’ Scorpius gave him an apologetic, lopsided smile. ‘I’m a man back from the dead to associate with Prometheus Thane. Honestly, I’m just glad I’m not in jail.’

‘Can’t lie,’ said Ron. ‘If you were anyone else, you probably would be. But you’ve seen the headlines.’

‘I have, they were good enough to let me read the paper. “Hero Returns. Not very imaginative, but I’ll take it.’ Scorpius sobered and looked away. ‘You’re choosing to trust me, and I get that you don’t have a lot of reason to. I won’t abuse that trust. If there’s anything I can do to help, I will.’

‘Good. A word of warning?’ Ron’s gaze went serious. ‘And this isn’t about me trusting you or not trusting you. Don’t screw around. If people get reason to doubt you, they’ll to drop a tonne of bricks on your head. They will bury you. Political mess, rifts between families, or not.’

‘I know.’ He grimaced, and intently studied Ron’s shoulder. ‘How’s - how’s Rose? How’s she been?’

Ron flinched. ‘I’m not sure I’m the man to -’

‘You’re her father, you’d know.’ Guilt rose in Scorpius’ chest, and he waved a hand. ‘Sorry. I’m not asking you to spy, or anything. Just, I mean - is she happy?’

‘She had a hell of a time after losing you…’

‘But now? Or, at least, before I came back, with her new job and Matt and all. Is she happy?’

When Ron hesitated, Scorpius had his answer. He didn’t know if it made him feel worse or if it was kindling something ancient and powerful that had come back with his bones. He did know that, despite asking, he didn’t want to think about it too much. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Stupid question. Not my business.’

‘I reckon it’s your business.’ Ron scratched his nose. ‘I just reckon it’s not my business to play go-between.’

Scorpius gave a stupid, self-conscious grin. ‘Ron Weasley playing go-between for his daughter and her ex-boyfriend, the son of Draco Malfoy back from the dead.’ The unspoken twisted in his gut, made his smile feel sour.

Ron couldn’t smother a short bark of laughter. ‘Bugger me, our lives aren’t half complicated.’ He sobered after a moment. ‘I’m sorry about your father. Never liked him, but I thought he was done with being an evil bastard.’

‘I’ve known this a while. But thanks. I know you’ll catch him, and then he can carry on the fine, upstanding family tradition of life imprisonment. It’s a bit worrying, though. He disappears just as Thane and me are brought in? That sounds like a tip-off. I promise it wasn’t me. Cross my heart and hope to die again. I was too busy being blasted by Rose to tip him off.’

‘We’re on it.’ Ron sighed, and stacked up his papers. ‘If you learn anything, if you change hotels, make sure you tell us. Or next time we meet, I’ll probably be turning blasting you into the Weasley tradition.’ He stood. ‘We’re done here, barring you lending us a hand with the last little thing.’

Scorpius nodded, and lifted his wrists. ‘Happy to help. And happy to get these off.’

Ron removed the cuffs, and gestured for him to wait before he left the small, cramped processing office. Scorpius kicked back on the chair, rubbing where the metal had chafed, and let his eyes shut. Soon. He’d be out of here soon and, so long as he kept in touch with the authorities, so long as he cooperated, wouldn’t have to go back to a cell.

He didn’t know how long it was until the door opened again, but he almost fell over when he saw the woman stood at the entrance, dripping trepidation. ‘Professor…!’

Nathalie Lockett stared at him like he was an apparition, stared at him like she thought he might disappear if she averted her gaze even for a heartbeat. ‘Scorpius - we talked about this…’

He drew a deep breath and swallowed bile and shame. ‘Nat…’

Then she’d crossed the room to drag him out of his chair into a white-knuckled embrace, and all he could do was clutch at her, the first person who hadn’t looked at him like he might be a lie or a trap or both, the first person to take him at face value. But still the words rose like they always did, desperate and pleading. ‘I’m real,’ he whispered, almost a head taller than her and still letting himself be held. ‘I’m real, I promise, I’m not a trick…’

‘Christ, I know. I know.’ When she pulled back to hold him at arms’ length, her eyes were shining. ‘I mean, I heard the reports - in the papers, around the office, from Granger. They wouldn’t let you out if they weren’t sure. And you’re here, right in front of me. It really is you. I didn’t fail you -’

Fail - Professor - Nat, no.’ He clutched her arms. ‘How could you have failed me…’

‘You were my responsibility, all of you. I had to make it right…’

‘You’re making it right.’ Scorpius grinned the grin he knew could make anyone smile, and she returned it, broad enough to banish this guilt he couldn’t comprehend, to banish the shine in her eyes. ‘It’s so damn good to see you, it really is. How’ve you been, what did I miss…’

Her eyes roamed his face for a moment, like she was drinking in every inch of him as if searching for an imperfection, and his heart swelled as nothing cracked the awe and delight in her expression. ‘I’m sorry. I went and got married without my Chief Meddler.’

He gasped with mock-horror. ‘How could you…’

‘It was just small! I was away for a while, after you - you died. I did more international work, I didn’t want to be in Britain, but I knew I couldn’t run forever, so I came back, and Cal and I got married this year. Everything’s okay.’ Her smile softened, stopped being a mirror of his and became her own. ‘It’s really okay.’

Scorpius’s throat tightened. ‘The Council of Thorns is rising again. They’ve got Lethe because I’m alive again. So many people are dead from that, it’s not okay…’ He cut himself off, or he’d say more, and he didn’t know how to.

She lifted her hand to grasp his. ‘They have done this. Not you. You think they didn’t have other projects, other ways of remaking Lethe, or making something else? They were going to find a way. If they had the resources to bring you back, they had the resources to make some sort of move. Something was going to happen, and it’s on their heads, and the people who brought Lethe back. Not on you. You didn’t choose this.’

‘It’s because of me -’

‘It’s because of them.’ Her voice was a slap to bring him to his senses, surprisingly vehement for someone who could detach like Nathalie Lockett. ‘They were going to do something. They were going to kill people. At least this way… at least this way, you’ve got another chance. And that’s everything.’

Confessions rose in his throat, but he knew he wouldn’t form them into words, couldn’t begin to express them, not with that hope and fire in her eyes. He let out a shaky breath. ‘That’s why I’m still here, isn’t it? And why you’re here.’

‘You don’t have to see him. I can do this myself.’

‘I’ll need to do it some day. And this shows good faith, which I could do with. And I’d rather have backup.’ Which won’t judge me.

Lockett nodded, and pulled up her own chair next to his. ‘He’s being brought up.’

It was five minutes of a silence that was refreshingly relaxed before the door scraped open at last and another Enforcer brought another prisoner in.

Prometheus Thane did not look at all reduced by his day of incarceration. His eyes were bright, and despite remaining scruffy and dirtied from the fighting in France, not even the cuffs at his wrists and ankles, the way he was dragged about by the guard, damaged his aristocratic poise. He cooperated as he was sat in a chair and shackled to it, and kept a mild, polite smile on his face while Lockett dismissed the Enforcer.

Only then did he speak, gaze landing on Scorpius. ‘You’re free?’

‘So long as I cooperate.’

‘There’s no need to be guilty,’ said Thane, and Scorpius internally cursed. He had not meant to be so transparent. ‘I had all the choices in the world, and made them willingly. You have had so few, and you deserve a life.’ He looked to Lockett, and something danced in his eyes. ‘And this must be the vaunted Professor Lockett. It’s so delightful to make your acquaintance at last.’

‘We met,’ Lockett drawled. ‘I was just unconscious at the time. It made for a much more pleasant meeting.’

‘Now, now. I assume you want my cooperation, so we can keep our manners, can’t we?’

Lockett pulled out a notepad and pen, expression set. ‘You’ve been told the deal. Cooperate with all of our efforts against the Council, and it will be taken into account in your sentencing.’

‘Yes,’ said Thane. ‘Assuming I’m sentenced by a British or IMC court, which I know France and Greece wouldn’t be thrilled by. And in Britain, it’ll make no difference; I get life imprisonment either way, because you don’t use Dementors any more.’

‘Then cooperate with us here, and maybe you get to stay in Britain, or maybe we make sure France doesn’t get you Kissed.’

Scorpius drew a raking breath. ‘Prometheus - we’re still fighting the Council. I thought it was what you believed in?’

Thane looked at him, eyes still bright, unconcerned. ‘You know, neither one of us would be here if you hadn’t been so intent on rescuing Miss Rourke, on cooperating with your old team. Does that please you?’

‘This wasn’t a double-cross -’

‘No, you just acted as your conscience dictated, and it so happens that you walk free and I stay in a cell.’

‘Maybe,’ said Lockett sharply, ‘that’s not about his choices so much as the two of you getting what you deserve.’

Scorpius rubbed his bare wrists. This, he thought as Lockett’s words stabbed his chest, is not what I deserve. ‘We had questions.’

‘Yes,’ said Thane, still in that calm, amiable voice. ‘How can I be of service to the IMC?’

‘The Chalice of Emrys,’ said Lockett. ‘You chased it. You wanted it. Why?’

Thane stared at her, eyebrows raising a half-inch. ‘You’re actually asking that.’

‘What did you want to use it for? To cure Lethe? Or just to deny the Council a weapon?’ Her voice remained low, clipped, and she twirled the pen in her fingers as she spoke.

Thane went to lift his hands to his face, but the cuffs stopped him with a rattle so sudden it made both Scorpius and Lockett jolt. ‘This is incredible,’ he declared, and promptly burst out laughing.

The pen was slammed down. ‘Thane -’

Scorpius’ gut surged. ‘Prometheus, if you can just talk -’

‘I don’t know anything you don’t know, Scorpius!’ Thane shook his head. ‘I’m sorry, you must have thought I was holding out on you, that I had more secrets. I needed the Chalice to figure out the next step. I wish I could help you; feed me some more of your very good Veritaserum, Professor, and I’ll say the same.’

Lockett looked over Scorpius. ‘What’s he talking about?’

‘We knew what we’d do with the Chalice,’ said Scorpius, throat as tight as his voice. ‘I just wondered if there was another way; if studying it would show…’

‘There is no other way, Scorpius. You know that. The question isn’t what, the question is how.’ Thane sobered, handsome face contorting into a grimace. ‘I’m sorry. I know nothing more.’

‘Is someone going to answer this question?’ said Lockett.

Thane’s lips twisted. ‘Yes, Scorpius. Let us raise the Professor from her ignorance.’

‘I don’t know why you find this so funny,’ Scorpius growled.

‘I’m doomed, one way or another, by your naivety and your lady love’s commendable cynicism. I must find amusement where I can, and for reasons which defy explanation, I find most of this very amusing.’ Thane met his gaze briefly. ‘Most of this.’

Scorpius looked away; truths blazing in the eyes of Prometheus Thane were nothing he wanted to be reminded of. ‘We wanted the Chalice,’ he began, ‘because we knew we could use it to stop Lethe. The plague is intrinsically tied to it, it’s continuously powered by it. Take away that power, and every source of the illness will disappear, every infected person will be cured. The Inferi would remain, but… they would just be smarter, controlled Inferi. Not contagious. They wouldn’t be able to make more.’

‘So you wanted to cut off the power?’ said Lockett.

‘Fiddling with the magics on how the Chalice works is phenomenal, likely impossible work,’ said Thane. ‘I know that much from studying it - albeit from this side of the Veil - these past two years. No, there’s only one way to cut the Chalice off as a power source for Lethe.’

‘It’s simple,’ said Scorpius, mouth tasting like it was full of his own ashes. ‘Or, the how is probably very complicated with something of the ancient power of the Chalice of Emrys, but the principle’s simple: destroy it.’

* *


Healer Dwyer had been Head Boy at Hogwarts in Matt’s fifth year. He’d been a Ravenclaw, a competent organiser, but truly terrible at talking to people. Matt could remember sitting as a neonate prefect in his first briefing on the Hogwarts express, with Dwyer stumbling over words. He hadn’t improved much.

‘Your stump’s healing up well, Mister Doyle,’ he said as he whisked into the room, without any of the officiousness he was trying to project. ‘The one perk of that kind of magic is that the wound was at least simple, clean.’

‘Oh, good,’ Matt drawled. His head was not entirely clear of the painkilling drugs. ‘A simple, clean dismemberment. I’d hate to have had a complicated, dirty dismemberment.’

Dwyer’s face pinched. ‘It means you have a much higher chance of the possibility of us maybe being able to fix a prosthetic.’

‘Chance. Possibility. Maybe.’ Matt stared at the space where his hand was supposed to be, and saw only linen sheets. ‘What manner of prosthetic?’

‘There are, uh, living metals. Over time, they’ll bond with the flesh and react almost exactly as how a real hand would; that’s why it’s good it’s been a clean cut,’ Dwyer stammered. ‘Less trauma to the nerve-endings. If it’ll take, we should be able to apply the prosthetic directly instead of needing some vitality magic procedures to -’

‘I get it.’ Matt did not look up. ‘What do I do to maximise these chances?’

Dwyer brightened. ‘Ah! We have some exercises for you to do, keep the muscles active and all of your instincts as intact as possible, not to mention various potions to maintain the connections in your nerves. And, of course, dull the pain.’

My favourite thing. Matt nodded, his expression unchanging. ‘What do you need from me today?’

‘Oh. I was just checking up on you.’ Finally, Dwyer got to his actual reason for being there, and lifted his clipboard to read the questions that were becoming part of the daily routine of being trapped in this wretched corner of Saint Mungo’s. Only after he was done did he finally look to the door and blink with recollection. ‘Ah, and you have visitors.’

‘I was expecting Mum to be -’

‘It’s Miss Weasley, actually. Your girlfriend.’

Matt wasn’t sure if Dwyer was being awkward, or if he thought it was worth specifying which Miss Weasley in particular had shown up. This was not an unreasonable precaution.

But his heart just pinched at the prospect of Rose showing up, to again stare at him with those apprehensive eyes. It was typical; she was looking more alive than she had in years, which he’d told himself was what he wanted. But now he wanted to be far away from it, and he didn’t want to think about why.

Dwyer took his silence as a dismissal and presumably as a prompt to send Rose in, because once Matt closed his eyes, the Healer was gone, and when he opened them, Rose was perched on the stool next to his bed. Or, possibly, several hours had passed. With these potions, it was hard to tell.

‘Hey,’ she said, and now that her eyes weren’t empty, the honest pain was stifling. ‘They say you might be able to come home in a couple of days -’

‘But they’ll want to try fitting a prosthetic first,’ he said, voice like a desert. ‘Yeah. Dwyer said.’

She forced a weak smile. ‘I’ve started to sort the flat out so it’ll be ready when you come home -’

‘What’s ready?’ His jaw tightened. ‘You’re going to make everything operable with just the one hand?’ But he saw her gaze flicker and, with a groan, slumped back on the pillows. ‘Sorry. That sounds nice.’

Her hand came to his left arm, squeezing gently. ‘I’m trying. I know this is going to be awkward, but I’m really trying.’

I don’t need much out of you. Just don’t look at me like I’m a bomb that might go off. Even if he knew being stared at like that made him more likely to snap. ‘Have you heard anything about Dad?’

‘They’ve arrested Tobias Grey, too -’

What?’ The world spun as Matt shot upright. ‘What the hell, your uncle’s locking up newspaper editors, too -’

‘On suspicion that they’ve been working together to steal Ministry information. Which they did do, Matt, we can’t get outraged about this. Your father had all sorts on the Council operations, and now they’re talking about Ministry corporate oversight documents which they bribed an official to get them.’ Rose’s expression sank. ‘They’re talking about multiple operations he’s interfered with.’

Frustration bubbled in his chest, but the throbbing in his stump sawed at its fire. ‘Hypocrites,’ he hissed. ‘The whole bloody IMC, the Aurors. How dare they -’

‘We have to have some form of unity in this, Matt -’

‘You didn’t think that when we went after Selena!’ he snapped, dark spots of anger creeping into his vision. ‘You didn’t think that when Dad rescued us from Ager Sanguinis.’

‘I wasn’t,’ Rose said a little coldly, ‘thinking anything after Ager Sanguinis. And you need to rest.’

Her hand was gentle at his good shoulder, but anger was as exhausting as pain, and he flopped back onto the bed. Even that small movement made his stump throb, and he clenched his jaw. When his vision started to level out, he could see her expression, that shut down mask of dead control.

He knew it well. And he was sick of the sight of it.

When he spoke, his words tasted like gravel. ‘Have you seen him yet?’

She took too long before she said, ‘Who?’

‘Who do you think?’

She flinched. ‘No. No, I haven’t.’

‘You can’t hide from him forever.’

‘I’m not hiding.’

‘It’s been a day. Your ex-boyfriend’s back from the dead -’

‘And my boyfriend has just -’ She jerked a hand at his stump, and he knew he was going to despise people talking around his injury more than it being discussed frankly. ‘This is more important.’

‘I appreciate your support,’ he lied, ‘but there’s not much for you to do here.’

She glared at him, for the first time in an age. ‘Why do you want me to?’

‘Because it’s inevitable. Because it’s something you need to do.’ Because you’re using my bedside as a place to hide. He had to concentrated to extend his left hand and touch her arm. ‘Because right now, I could do this, and I’m still not reaching you.’ It wasn’t anger he felt. Anger was still diverted by the throbbing stump. But it certainly wasn’t sympathy that fizzed through his veins.

The ache in his arm subsided a little as she dropped her gaze, and shame flickered across her face. ‘I don’t - I’m sorry, Matt. I’m trying. I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to do.’

‘Let’s start with giving up our pretending. Scorpius is back, my Dad’s in prison, and I don’t have a hand.’ His hand dropped. ‘You can say it.’

She stared at the stump, but the door swung open before she could summon a response. Matt didn’t know if he was relieved to see his mother, or jarred at the interruption, but either way Rose shot to her feet as if stung.

‘I should - I’ll let you talk,’ she mumbled, and fairly fled the room with little more than pleasantries.

Jen Doyle didn’t stop her, but seemed thoroughly nonplussed as she shut the door behind her. ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d say she looks worse off than you.’

‘Losing a hand. Boyfriend coming back from the dead. It’s much the same.’ Somehow, with his mother, it was more natural to make light of it than be frustrated, but still his expression creased with worry. ‘Are you okay?’

‘In this day and age, there are worse places for your father to be than in jail.’ Her expression flattened as she sat next to him. ‘Unfortunately, the case has been taken out of the Auror Division’s hands.’

‘Why’s that unfortunate? By all accounts, Potter’s going authoritarian as hell.’

‘He is,’ Jen conceded. ‘But this has been passed right up to the office of the Minister. Because, I don’t know, Halvard needs to pretend he’s relevant while Lillian Rourke runs the world.’

‘This isn’t just about scapegoats? You think they’re trying to keep Dad and Toby out the way?’

She sighed, and smoothed his sheets. ‘I don’t know. I can only do so much. It’s not appropriate for my office to handle my own husband’s case. It’s not like there isn’t plenty of other work for me to do.’ She met his gaze. ‘And you have better things to worry about.’

Other things to worry about, I grant you,’ Matt said wryly, and twitched his stump. ‘I’m not sure they’re better.’

Her expression folded with guilt. ‘I’m not going to be around as much as I’d like. Lillian - I expect she’s trying to be helpful - is seconding me to the IMC as she has to get swathes of reforms of international law pushed through. I won’t be out the country all the time, but…’

‘You really need to keep working while Dad’s in prison?’

Jen tensed, gaze dropping. ‘Sophie’s back in Hogwarts. Annie’s back at work. You have Rose. If you need me, I will refuse to go. Otherwise, I would like to stay busy.’

Matt watched his mother - the one who’d never approved of his father’s work, the one who’d fought a war so the rule of law meant justice instead of oppression, and pretended he couldn’t see how fine the strings which held her up really were. ‘Oh,’ he sighed, and closed his eyes. ‘That’s where I get it from.’

* *


‘Savage, Jennings.’ Albus gave the Aurors sat at the end of the corridor in the Caelestis Hotel false smiles. ‘Best job in the department right now, huh?’

Savage was an old hand at Auror business, so his idea of surveillance on a cooperating Scorpius Malfoy was to sit with his feet up, reading the paper. ‘Beats fighting Yank zombies. Which I’ve been doing, so don’t get sarcastic, kid.’

Jennings was a bit too new to make cracks at her boss’s son. ‘Everything’s all quiet, Mister Malfoy’s settled into his suite, except -’

Savage elbowed her. ‘You don’t report to him, Merlin.’

‘I was just going to -’ Jennings flapped, and gave Albus a plaintive look. ‘His mum showed up. She’s in there now. Thought you might want to know and not interrupt.’

Albus looked at Savage. ‘See? That’s good investigating by the Auror Department.’ He did not want to intrude on a reunion between Scorpius and his mother, so he perched on the table, arms folding across his chest.

‘Hellfire,’ Savage swore. ‘You got uppity while you were away. If you were my boy, I’d have dragged you back by your ear months ago.’

‘If you were my father, I’d have done a better job of disappearing.’

‘Your father’s doing the best he can right now. People like Doyle and Grey are liabilities -’

‘I get enough of these arguments at home. I don’t need them from Dad’s flunkies.’

Jennings opened her mouth, looking like she wasn’t sure what she was going to say - then Scorpius’ door swung open, and out stepped Astoria Greengrass, dark hair tied back, red-eyed.

‘Look alive and polite, girl,’ Savage muttered to Jennings, and they all rose as Scorpius’ mother walked down the corridor.

But she ignored the two Aurors, and turned to Albus with a watery smile. ‘Al; you didn’t need to wait out here.’ He hadn’t seen her since the Chalice hunt and he’d never had much interaction with Scorpius’ parents, but Astoria hugged him anyway. It was an emotional day, he reasoned. She probably needed a lot of hugs.

So he mustered his best, polite smile as he pulled back. ‘I’d hate to interrupt you two catching up.’

‘It’s a miracle, isn’t it? I’m still struggling to understand…’ Astoria’s voice trailed off, and she shook her head. ‘Anyway, you go see him. I’m sure you’ve missed him terribly, and I’ll be back.’

‘You’re staying in England?’

‘For a time.’ She glanced at Savage. ‘I’m due to help the hard-working Auror Department trace my ex-husband. I’m not sure how much use my input will be, but I’ll try.’

Savage shrugged. ‘This is Captain Weasley’s case, ma’am.’

‘Can your relief teams in America spare you?’ Albus raised his eyebrows.

‘Everything’s ticking over, thanks to the IMC’s swift response to the Council threat. They can handle the mopping up.’

Savage looked at Jennings. ‘Take her to the office to see the Captain, would you?’

Jennings was too junior to object to being talked to like that, and sprang to her feet with a helpful smile. ‘Ma’am, if you’d come this way?’

Astoria was led off, and Albus had no desire to linger with Savage, so he went down the corridor and rapped on Scorpius’ door, entering at the summons. ‘I can come back later, mate, if you need a moment…’

It was a big suite that Scorpius had booked at one of the more expensive, modern hotels on Diagon Alley; several rooms, sunlight streaming in through the tall windows onto polished wood and opulent furnishings. Scorpius stood at the balcony doors, arms folded across his chest. When he turned, he looked pale, worn, tired, but his smile reached his eyes. ‘It’s okay. I’m alright, that was just… a bit draining.’

‘Yeah. I can imagine.’

‘I mean, what do I say? Yes, I’m alive. Yes, I’m here. Yes, I’m happy to see you. Oh, you’re crying. Lots. And I still have very complicated abandonment issues, but this isn’t the time.’ Scorpius’ brow knotted. ‘It’s mental.’

‘She… seemed to take it hard. I mean, she’s your mum, of course she did.’ Albus opened his arms for a big shrug. ‘But setting up relief charities, getting involved with the IMC… I think she was inspired to make a difference, to do something.’

‘My mother isn’t a leader. She isn’t a planner. She isn’t a problem solver.’ Scorpius rubbed his temples. ‘But she can throw really good fundraisers.’

‘Speaking of funds…’ Albus shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘You can afford this place?’

‘You barely spent my money, and some was in various investments and stuff. I think I’ve made money by being dead for two years. Also, now I’m legally not-dead, and now my father’s a renegade on the run in some unknown corner of the world, there’s only so much they can stop me from getting at the family wealth.’

‘It’s very you.’

‘It’s a big suite. You want to crash somewhere, there’s a room with your name on it.’ Scorpius frowned as he wandered over. ‘Figuratively. I didn’t carve “Al” into the door. That would be creepy.’

Albus grinned, but felt guilt tinge the smile. ‘I appreciate it, mate. Maybe sometimes, but… one step at a time. I don’t know how my parents would react if I left right now, and I’m trying to keep things on an even keel.’

‘Yes, those icy looks with your Dad look like progress.’ Scorpius grasped his shoulder. ‘Is everything alright?’

‘No, but look at this world,’ said Albus with a shrug. ‘What is alright?’

‘Being alive. Breathing. Having friends.’ Scorpius gave a thin, but not insincere smile. ‘Being dead makes you appreciate the little things.’

‘Have you spoken to Rose?’

A wince. ‘No, not yet. What’s the etiquette here?’

‘For the “back-from-the-dead” boyfriend? I have no clue.’

‘Is she - I mean her and Matt, they got together, like, how, and how serious are they…’

‘I’ve been gone almost as long as you. I have no idea.’ I know they lie to each other. I know they hide things from each other. I know Rose has been walking around half as dead as a Lethe Inferius. All of that felt like spying, though, and Scorpius looked too anxious to be given half-baked theories and hearsay. ‘I’ve not been back long enough to get the scuttlebutt from her or my family.’

Scorpius sighed at that, anxious about him, now, rather than his return-from-the-dead anguish. ‘Your family cares about you.’

‘You know as well as I do that “caring” isn’t enough, and…’ Al sighed. ‘Dad’s… I don’t know what Dad is. Angry. Frustrated. Taking it out on the world. I can’t agree with what he’s doing, how he’s handling this. Arresting Matt’s father? Pushing for all these powers for his Aurors and the international teams?’

‘The war’s been driving lots of people in lots of ways.’

‘It doesn’t make it right.’

‘No.’ Scorpius blew his fringe out of his eyes. ‘But you’re being a bit selective in what you care about.’

Albus looked at him, startled. ‘I don’t -’

‘These past eight months, I have killed fifteen people.’ Scorpius’ voice dropped, low and taut. ‘Three of them were in cold blood, but I remind myself that these were either ringleaders in the Council of Thorns, or members of governments or the IMC who were betraying the world to the Council. They weren’t going to get locked up, and they had to be stopped. So we - Thane, me, our team - stopped them.’

Albus’ throat went dry. ‘You didn’t have to do that.’

‘Maybe not. And, yet, I did. Because what was the alternative? Ask them nicely to stop?’

‘You could have come home.’ It was hard to say it. It was the truth, and it was a truth he felt in his bones, but the last thing he felt prepared to do was accuse Scorpius.

‘First, that would mean someone else held the wand. Thane’s war might not have been pretty, or legal, or even very moral, but it needed to happen. Even if I hadn’t been fighting it, it would have gone on. Second, I… I couldn’t come back. I’ve got to be in the action, Al. If I weren’t alive, they wouldn’t have Lethe. Coming back wouldn’t have let me fight.’

‘You’re back now,’ Albus pointed out. ‘And this is sitting in a hotel room, not fighting.’

He hadn’t meant it as an accusation, but Scorpius pulled away, stalked over to the counter of the suite’s kitchenette. ‘I’m still figuring that out. It’s easier now the IMC has the Chalice, but this wasn’t the plan. I was meant to stay gone.’

‘Until the war ended?’

Any answer was cut off by a knock on the door. Scorpius swore and stomped over. ‘This train of well-wishers can sod off. I’ll get rid of them.’

No, thought Albus when he saw Rose Weasley stood there with a cardboard box. You won’t.

‘Er.’ Rose looked between them, expression remarkably taut and calm. ‘Is this a bad time?’

‘No,’ said Al quickly, moving to the doorway. ‘Not at all. Ever. I’m going to go.’ Somehow, a man as big as him could slip past Rose into the corridor and flee.

Because of all the things he’d shared with Scorpius, this reunion was not going to be one of them.

———————

A/N: I may have said this before, but I’m rejecting Word of JK on the fate of Lucius Malfoy (look, Word of God is a valid literary issue, but mostly I just don’t agree with this bit). I cannot believe that Lucius would be able to get out of prison time by selling out other Death Eaters. The man lied his way out of Azkaban after the First War, and was twice a member of Voldemort’s Inner Circle. He might not have been one of Voldemort’s raving psychopath Death Eaters, but he was a mass murderer and a major figure in the movement. I don’t care how many changes of heart he had - only when out of favour and when his own family was in danger, any administration with any sense of justice could not let him, ostensibly the highest-ranking surviving Death Eater after the War, walk away. It’s insane. Maybe by cooperating and with the little good his family did he might be looking at reduced sentence, but to get away without imprisonment? Any punishment? Not buying it.

Also I think I mentioned Lucius being imprisoned in Ignite or Starfall and then Pottermore happened. *shakes fist at sky*



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